By Judd Gregg - 04/11/11 10:17 AM EDT
As we enter the official budget season for Congress, one outcome is certain: There will be no budget.
There is no conceivable scenario that allows the Republican House and the Democratic Senate to produce a budget on which they could agree.
This leads to the question: Why go through this process if it is not going to produce a functioning result?
Some might say “the law requires it.” But, actually, it does not. In fact, as has been seen during recent years, the Congress seems perfectly content to function without a budget and, for that matter, to function without appropriations bills.
It is difficult to understand how Congress can claim legitimacy on any fiscal policy issue when it has walked away from its primary responsibility to set a course for spending. The Congress has clearly done considerable damage to its own credibility by this nonfeasance and has established that the laws it passed to govern itself are of little account.
So why does the Congress keep up the self-flagellation by continuing the budget debate and, for that matter, the appropriations process?
I think it is because to admit that this is all for nothing would leave them with no one to blame but themselves. Of course, that is not acceptable in the discourse of American politics; there must always be someone to blame other than yourself for the failure to govern. So this dance goes forward.
It is an especially self-delusional and deceptive event this year. This is because a great deal of bunting is being attached to the product of the House Budget Committee’s Republican majority.
Everyone is talking about how Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget is action-oriented, saving nearly $6 trillion over 10 years and proposing entitlement reform.
This will be good and Paul Ryan deserves accolades for framing the debate. But because it will not be passed by the Senate and because all the key enforcement mechanisms that might make a difference — such as reconciliation instructions, pay-go reform and spending caps with a sequester — require a budget resolution passed by both houses, nothing will come of this budget.
It will be used by many to claim a commitment to spending restraint and entitlement reform, but it can accomplish neither.
Instead, it will confuse the public as to what is actually happening and more importantly who is actually responsible for not being responsible.
This whole process should be dropped. Instead, the focus and the political energy should be on a series of legislative acts that would actually move the ball down the field on fiscal reform.
This has to start with the recognition that nothing is going to happen; there will be no serious action on the debt, unless it is done through bipartisanship.
I know such thoughts are heresy to the Palinites and Pelositis, but for those who actually want to get to work on doing something that will impact our nation’s desperate fiscal situation, there is no other way.
Divided governments by definition require bipartisanship to pass anything.
There is a large amount of fertile ground in this arena. Social security, energy, budget process reform, tax reform, even immigration reform are areas where real action could occur that would involve both sides and which would lead to a substantive positive impact on our fiscal mess.
People want leadership on the issue of righting our ship of state’s fiscal house. They are going to see through the gamesmanship of the budget process dance and be extremely frustrated by the lack of progress it produces.
We have the choice of going down the well-trod road of no budget, no appropriations bills and no action or of choosing a path of action by forging genuine and effective legislation on a series of issues that will positively impact this most pressing problem — our massively overspent federal credit card.
The time is definitely here to take the path less traveled and get something done.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and also as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee.